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MLB - Batting Stance Standouts

By Gary Cozine
Monday, June 24th, 2002

For a group of people pulling down six- and seven-figure paychecks, baseball players are a remarkably superstitious bunch. I suppose this stems from the knowledge that they are where they are by the whims of the baseball gods who, at any moment, may reach down and fillip them into minor league obscurity. This consciousness of life's capriciousness manifests itself in some odd behaviors.

To see these superstitions taken to an extreme, you need look no further than the recently retired Wade Boggs. Boggs was legendary for his habits, among which included drawing the Hebrew word "Chai" in the batter's box before each at bat, eating a chicken dinner before every game, and running out on the field every evening at exactly 7:07 PM. The only thing he didn't do was tear the heads off of squirrels and suck out the bloody goodness. (At least I don't think he did that.)

I have my compulsive, neurotic habits, too. The difference is that when I do them people think I'm a whack job whereas when Boggs did them they talked about his incredible consistency. Apparently, it's more endearing if you're a .328 lifetime hitter.

Many of Boggs' rituals were done before games - taking exactly 150 groundballs for infield practice, stepping into the batting cage at 5:17 PM every evening, and those stops at the KFC drive thrus - therefore many fans never got to see them.

But if you want to see Grade A obsessive-compulsive behavior, you need look no further than the batter's box at your local stadium. The batting stance is such a clear expression of a player's neuroses that in addition to the play-by-play and color commentators, every network should have a psychologist on staff. If so, you'd have sequences such as the following:

Play-by-Play Guy: "We're in the fourth, the score is tied up at 2-2 as Hernandez steps into the batter's box."

Color Guy: "He's been swinging a hot bat ever since the hitting coach started him hitting off of a tee. They work early before games and it seems to be helping."

Psychologist: "Yes, and you'll notice that he has readjusted his batting helmet three times now. This is a sign of sexual inadequacy and that his mother did not breastfeed him. He tries to compensate by swinging that big 36 oz. bat."

What follows is a random sampling of the idiosyncrasies of today's ballplayers:

Gary Sheffield: An obvious place to start since most people are familiar with Sheffield's distinctive stance. The bat wiggle has now grown into a full-blown wag. If you were watching from above the field, his bat moves from two o'clock to eight o'clock and back. His quick wrist flicks make him look like Jackson Pollock working on a drip painting with the bat as the brush and the sky as his canvas.

Sheffield is not the best hitter in the league, but he may be the quickest from the right side of the plate. The fact that he can have that much bat movement and still catch up with a 98 mph fastball defies the laws of physics. And no one looks more menacing standing in the box.

Craig Counsell: Someone once described his stance as a chimney sweep who acts as if he's missed a spot. Counsell holds his bat high above his head, circles it around and then extends his arms even further until the bat towers above him.

Sammy Sosa: Sosa looks as if he is dodging an invisible punch to the gut. But most of the punches are delivered from his bat.

Damon Minor: The Giants first baseman is an absolute beast. He's a 6'7", 230 lb. left-handed batter with an open stance (much like Luis Gonzales of the Diamondbacks) who twirls his bat like Snideley Whiplash works his moustache. He looks less like a batter than a cousin of Lenny from Of Mice and Men who is anxious to "pet" the rabbit standing on the mound.

Moises Alou: How a guy who looks like a four-year-old girl scout needing to pee can generate enough power to drive a ball out of the park is beyond me.

Nomar Garciaparra: Many players have now taken to adjusting their batting gloves after every pitch. Nomar is leading the vanguard of this movement. (Just as a side note, if I hear another commentator say "Nomaaaaaaaaah" in a bad Boston dialect as if they thought it up themselves, I'm putting my foot through my own TV.) Nomar seems like a normal guy in interviews, but if you watch him in the box, you slowly become convinced that he's afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome.

(Another side note: has anyone ever considered the possibility that John Rocker suffers from this malady? If you watch him on the mound, you'll notice that he has more tics than a Canadian White Tail Deer in August and he uses his glove to try to wipe invisible bugs off of his face. Add this to his tendency to shout out racist invective at inopportune moments and my theory begins to gather steam. Or maybe it's just because he's from Georgia.)

Jeff Bagwell: The batting stance of the Astros' veteran is absurd. No one should be able to hit from that position. He looks as if he's doing squats or getting ready for the limbo. In theory, he should have zero plate coverage - his legs are spread so far apart that he barely strides when he hits the ball. But his career batting average is .302, so apparently it's working out okay for him.

Joe McEwing: Watching the Mets' ballplayer get into the batter's box is a little like watching what happens when you run 10,000 volts through a stray cat. It is less a batting stance than it is a piece of lost choreography from Martha Graham. He has a very involved sequence of moves that are difficult to catalog, but which include a few cocks of the head, a reach down to touch one of his feet, and finally ended by throwing his right elbow behind him as if a bad guy was sneaking up on him.

The worst part of this bizarre ceremony is that he does it between every pitch. If you watch enough Mets games, eventually you'll begin to pray that the first ball hits him just to end the misery.

I don't have that baseball satellite package that all the kids are talking about so I'm sure I'm missing a lot of other noteworthy players here. And this doesn't even include the old guys - remember Joe Morgan pumping that arm like a Russian immigrant trying to get water in January? - but it's interesting to note that millionaires are as messed up as the rest of us. What do you think Howard Hughes' batting stance would have looked like? And more importantly, how would he have gotten his fingernails into batting gloves?

To read more about Boggs and some of his habits, you can do so here.

To read more about Canadian White Tail Deer, go here.

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